Called by name: Galveston-Houston pilgrims trek to Lisbon for World Youth Day 2023

September 12, 2023

A portion of the 311 pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston pose for a photo with Auxiliary Bishop Dell’Oro, CRS, during a gathering for Houston pilgrims on Aug. 4 at St. Caterina Parish in Lisbon. (Photo by James Ramos/Herald)

LISBON — At a quick glance, a Texas flag flapping in the wind sure does look a lot like the flag of the South American country of Chile. This common mistake often united eager Chileans with friendly Texans at World Youth Day (WYD) in Lisbon, Portugal, eliciting laughs and Spanish (though sometimes broken) conversation and a happy exchange.

Even so, with rosaries and American (and Texan!) flags in hand, a delegation of 311 pilgrims from the Archdiocese made the great adventure to Portugal’s capital city of Lisbon for WYD.

There on the Iberian Peninsula, surrounded by Portugal’s ancient churches and buildings, they trekked the city’s Seven Hills, taking trains, trams and walking miles across Lisbon’s iconic cobblestone pathways in search of prayer, faith, Pastéis de Nata — the popular egg custard tart dessert — and possibly a glimpse of Pope Francis.

Led by Angela Pometto, director of the Office of Young Adult and Campus Ministry for the Archdiocese (YACM), and Thalia Romero, YACM associate director, the Archdiocesan group was one of more than 1,300 groups comprised of more than 28,600 pilgrims from across the U.S. that attended WYD in Lisbon.

The U.S. was among the five largest delegations participating in WYD, which took place Aug. 1 to 6 in Lisbon, Portugal.

1.5 million pilgrims attending

They joined the more than 354,000 pilgrims registered for the event, with the most representatives from Spain (77,224 young people), Italy (almost 60,000) and Portugal (43,742). France brought 42,482 pilgrims, followed by the U.S. The theme of WYD was “Mary arose and went with haste.” Youth from all countries of the world except from Maldives arrived in Lisbon for the event.

By the end of the week, WYD and government organizers estimated that more than 1.5 million attend the international celebration.

A variety of groups comprised the delegation from Galveston-Houston, some from parishes, young adult groups, mission organizations and colleges like the University of St. Thomas and Texas A&M University at Galveston. The Archdiocesan group ventured to Madrid, Ávila and Toledo in Spain before making a side trip to Fatima, then to Lisbon for WYD.

‘You see Jesus with every person you meet’

In the mornings before the major WYD events, delegations attended a variety of “Rise Up” catechesis sessions and other events at parishes, parks and civic centers. These events were hosted in some 30 languages all around Lisbon and in neighboring communities.

On the evening of Aug. 2, U.S. pilgrims gathered in Quintas das Conchas e dos Lilases Park along with U.S. bishops who greeted them, lining up on the stage and introducing their dioceses. Sixty bishops came to Lisbon from the U.S., and more than 35 hosted catechesis sessions during WYD, including Galveston-Houston Bishop Italo Dell’Oro, CRS.
Hosted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops with Bishop Robert Barron of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, a group of Texas pilgrims attended the event under Lisbon’s leafy trees, including Silvia Torres, a pilgrim from the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

“WYD in Lisbon is beautiful. It is welcoming. You feel God’s presence in every place that you go to, every corner that you turn into, every person that you say hello to, they just greet you, and you see Jesus with every person that you meet,” she told OSV News.

Her first WYD was in Krakow, Poland, in 2016, and now in Lisbon, she said she was touched by her visit to the sanctuary of Our Lady of Fátima, where she managed to do a pilgrimage on her knees.

“I was able to do it from the beginning up until her chapel. And I did dedicate that for my mom and for her health. And it was a beautiful experience,” Torres said. “I gave (Mary) all of my worries, all my stress, all my insecurities about the future. And I leave with peace, knowing that she is always looking out for us, that she is always with us. I am blessed enough to have my mom here on earth and my mom in heaven.”

Showing the light of Christ

Also from Texas, Bishop Edward J. Burns of Dallas led the Eucharistic procession at the end of the event. Amid the National Eucharistic Revival taking place in the U.S. and ahead of the upcoming National Eucharistic Congress, bishops are encouraging youth in Lisbon to turn to Christ and to bring their problems and questions to him, especially in Eucharistic adoration.

Edgar Mondragón, a young teacher from Houston, said that what he would like to bring home from WYD in Lisbon “is to be able to just pour out what I receive here onto the people I work with, my friends, my family, my students.”

“It’s in giving that you receive. So just be able to give them the love, show them the light of Christ,” he said.

Bishop Dell’Oro said at least 12 bishops from Texas attended WYD, hearing confessions, hosting catechesis sessions and celebrating Masses.

The day after more than 800,000 welcomed Pope Francis to Lisbon, Bishop Dell’Oro and Pometto hosted a special gathering for Houston pilgrims in St. Catherine Parish, a 16th-century Baroque church.

Under the sanctuary’s soaring gilt ceilings, surrounded by sacred Baroque art, pilgrims from all around the Texas Gulf Coast gathered for prayer and special time with their auxiliary bishop, including testimony sharing and a brief question and answer session with Bishop Dell’Oro.

'Your names are written in heaven'

He reflected on the story of the return of the 72 disciples sent by Jesus in Luke’s Gospel: “The seventy-two returned rejoicing, and said, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.” Jesus said, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky. Behold, I have given you the power ‘to tread upon serpents’ and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” (Lk 10:17-20)

Bishop Dell’Oro encouraged the attendees, filling dozens of pews, to pause and reflect on their experiences in that moment, especially as the events got busier and more distracting as it continued.

“There is always something — indeed, it’s more than something greater to come in our relationship with Jesus,” Bishop Dell’Oro said. “All the way up, God is looking at those names. So, as Pope Francis said last night, may Jesus keep calling us by name. That’s the truth in our life.”

The day before, an hour’s drive away from Lisbon in the hilltop town of Palmela, Bishop Dell’Oro also hosted a Spanish catechesis session in a large outdoor plaza of St. John. Under bright, sunny skies, he was joined by Texas pilgrims, as well as at least a hundred other Spanish-speaking pilgrims and priests from around the world.

Several priests from the Archdiocese also went to Lisbon, including Father Ricardo Arriola, parochial vicar at St. Bartholomew in Katy; Father David Hust, parochial vicar at St. Anthony of Padua in The Woodlands; Father Chris Meyer, parochial vicar at St. Faustina Parish in Fulshear; Father Miguel Perez, CC, parochial vicar at Queen of Peace in Houston; and Father Rodrigo Ulloa, MM, Maryknoll vocations director.

They accompanied several pilgrim groups along the journey in WYD, celebrating Masses and hearing confessions. They joined pilgrims all around Lisbon, attending the City of Joy, a large outdoor festival at the riverside Garden of Vasco de Gama full of vocation booths, food, live music and a park dedicated to hearing thousands of confessions in dozens of languages.

With Pometto, Bishop Dell’Oro is set to host a follow-up meeting with Galveston-Houston pilgrims on Sept. 16 in Houston for a day of reflection, prayer and fellowship.

Since 1985, the international WYD has been held every two to three years in a different country and is intended to draw together youth and young adults, from every continent for a worldwide pilgrimage and festival of faith along with the Pope. The Lisbon WYD was originally set for the summer of 2022; however, due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, Pope Francis extended the preparatory period to August 2023. 

 World Youth Day is returning to Asia in 2027 and will be hosted in Seoul, South Korea. Pope Francis announced the location Aug. 6 after the closing Mass.

“The next World Youth Day will take place in Asia. It will be in South Korea, in Seoul,” he said to cheers from the estimated 1,000 South Korean pilgrims, many of them proudly waving their country’s flag.

Pope Francis prefaced his announcement by urging young people to travel to Rome in 2025 to participate in youth celebrations during the jubilee year, when Vatican officials expect more than 30 million pilgrims to flock to the Eternal City.